Phan Nguyen – Mondoweiss February 16, 2012
Last week, the David Project released its “white paper” on Israel advocacy in US colleges and universities, titled A Burning Campus? Rethinking Israel Advocacy at America’s Universities and Colleges.
The David Project is perhaps best known for its smear campaign against Columbia professor Joseph Massad in 2004–05, and more recently, for creating the most boring and uninspiring “Shit People Say” video.
Unlike previous hasbara handbooks, A Burning Campus? dispenses with the usual talking points and approaches Israel advocacy on college campuses more strategically.
As I demonstrate below, the report is surprisingly frank about how the anti-Semitism charge is used as a weapon, what is the best way to attack college professors, and which minority groups are best to, in their words, “co-opt.”
The anti-Semitism charge as a tactic
The report is candid about how the anti-Semitism charge is used as a tactic. What it determines however, is that the tactic is ultimately ineffective and that other tactics should be employed.
Throughout the report, the authors assert that anti-Semitism is not a pervasive problem on college campuses:
Most American campuses are not hostile environments for most Jewish students….The chief concern therefore is not the welfare of Jewish students but that a pervasively negative atmosphere will affect the long-term thinking of current college students, negatively affecting strong bipartisan support for Israel.
Racial antisemitism of the kind most associated with the Nazis is not likely a serious problem on any American college campus. Swastikas appearing on a dorm room door or other similar manifestations are often dealt with quickly and seriously.
Campus is largely not a hostile environment for Jewish students. There has probably never been a richer array of ways for students to engage in meaningful Jewish activities today than there has ever been, including at schools where anti-Israelism is widespread.
Because anti-Semitism is not pervasive, such accusations are ineffective:
Pro-Israel organizations have often cast the challenge on campus as an assault on Jewish students rather than as a spreading pervasive negativity toward Israel. Casting the issue in these terms does not jive with the lived experience of many Jewish students, who know they can identify as Jews and largely not suffer repercussions…
[D]epicting campus as hostile to Jews has not to date proven to be an effective strategy for decreasing anti-Israelism on campus…
Therefore other tactics must be utilized.
How to attack professors
Instead of accusing your professors of anti-Semitism, accuse them of abusing their positions. This will produce higher returns:
[A]ccusing faculty members who propagandize against Israel of “academic malpractice” is likely to be a much more effective strategy than challenging specific allegations or invoking anti-Jewish bigotry. Rightly or wrongly, the current campus atmosphere is much more sympathetic to charges that teachers are not satisfactorily teaching their subject than to complaints of anti-Jewish bias and Israel supporters will likely have a greater practical impact by framing their concerns in this manner.
Apparently the David Project has come a long way since the days when founder Charles Jacobs labeled Jewish Columbia professors who disagreed with him as “the Marranos of Morningside Heights”—essentially Jew traitors.
Targeting specific racial groups
The report calls for pro-Israel students to build alliances with other groups on campus, notably with students of color:
Campus Israel advocates often overlook the importance of emerging groups with great potential to shape the campus conversation.
Many of these groups also have the potential to be co-opted into the anti-Israel coalition on campus. Preventing them from allying themselves with the anti-Israel effort or even co-opting them into pro-Israel efforts is an opportunity for a significant “win” by Israel advocates on many campuses.
Translation: If left unchecked, students of color might be “co-opted” into believing that Palestinians are subjected to racist oppression. We need to co-opt them first.
Notable among these are Indian groups, which have a potential for natural affinity. Indian Americans are overrepresented at many target schools…
Both [India and Israel] are primary targets and victims of Islamist terrorism, suffer from protracted border disputes with majority Muslim populations, have enjoyed tremendous success in high-tech industries and benefit from an impressive and growing national culture of entrepreneurship, and see themselves as the modern political manifestations of ancient civilizations.
Translation: Indians are never Muslim. They hate Muslims, so we have something in common. They’re also entrepreneurs and are ancient like us.
Israel has a long standing, close alliance with the United States. Indian leaders increasingly see a close alliance with the United States as a pillar of their country’s geopolitical strategy for many years to come. Indian political leaders therefore may view Israel’s successful relationship with the United States in similar terms to the way that some Indian American leaders view American Jewish success.
Translation: There is no difference between US students of Indian descent and the government of India.
Other Asian groups are also increasingly significant factors on American campuses and could serve as fruitful partners:
South Korea has a large and growing evangelical population and there is evidence of increasing affinity for Israel and Jews in that country.
Translation: South Korean students love Jews and God.
China will obviously be a significant factor in world affairs for many years to come, and there is also some evidence of Chinese affinity for Jewish culture and Israel.
Translation: Chinese-American students control the world economy (through their dual loyalty to China) and groove to Matisyahu.
Many Latino student groups are susceptible to partnership in an anti-Israel coalition. Convincing them not to publicly affiliate with or otherwise support anti-Israelism would itself be a significant victory for Israel supporters on many campuses.
Although the report does not explain why Latino students are particularly susceptible to “anti-Israelism,” a recent press briefing by The Israel Project might shed some light:
Americans of Hispanic origin, the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, are relatively hostile towards Israel because they are ignorant about Middle East affairs and are influenced by traditional anti-Israeli Catholic views, according to the Israel advocacy group, The Israel Project (TIP).
Translation: Latino students don’t like Israel because they are ignorant and Catholic. Don’t expect to win them over. The best you can do is prevent them from actively supporting the other side.
Conspicuously absent in the report is any discussion of African-American students, an issue that I will address in the near future.
Evangelical students are an increasing proportion of and increasingly active on many target campuses. These students have a natural affinity for Israel and are becoming more active as campus advocates for Israel.
Evangelical positions on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage are unpopular on most college campuses. Students who identify strongly in this way may have limited ability to influence non-evangelical students in a pro-Israel direction.
Translation: Evangelicals have a “natural affinity” for Israel, homophobia, and restricting women’s rights. The first one is an asset, the latter two are liabilities, and evangelical anti-Semitism is a non-issue.
Israel supporters should therefore seek to work with this important demographic without entering into a permanent coalition that may hurt its ability to work with other groups and/or individuals on campus or that associates Israel’s “brand” too closely with unpopular “social” issues.
At the same time, campus Israel supporters would be remiss not to seek to utilize and partner with evangelicals in creative ways.
Translation: Make sure Israel’s reputation as a racist apartheid regime is not sullied by “unpopular” associations with homophobia and sexism.
And speaking of homophobia…
[M]any students have brought gay Israelis to campus to discuss gay rights in the country, an idea with obvious provenance that nevertheless does not usually interest a wider spectrum of campus due to its narrow focus on Israel. Instead, a pro-Israel group could plan a more general event on gay rights in the Middle East that would likely appeal to a much broader spectrum of students.”
Translation: Notwithstanding the fact that you have just aligned yourself with homophobic evangelicals, when all else fails, exploit Middle Eastern queers.
Phan Nguyen is a Palestine solidarity activist based in New York .